Telecom Consultancy Prospers through Customization

When a downtown Washington law firm was required to build offices three stories underground to comply with D.C. height requirements it called upon a very small consultancy to help it with unique telecommunications needs.

The father and son team of Richard and Andrew Glasgow was able to figure out a wireless solution so employees throughout Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Preston Gates Ellis would never need to spend a mind-bending minute without access to a BlackBerry or cell phone.

The Glasgow Group has built a successful business by tapping into the region's supply of law firms and associations, although it does contract work for a variety of clients that also need customization. The firm is offering its services to the Fairfax County Water Authority, for example, and is designing the new communications and data needs of Arena Stage, which is temporarily moving to Crystal City, Va. The consultancy is helping outfit the new theater and is linking the temporary theater with Arena's office personnel who will be housed about a block away.

When Richard Glasgow founded the company in 1984, the firm's focus, he said, was all about "shared tenant services."

"If you go into an office building, you don't buy your own air conditioning system, so why wouldn't you do that for communications?" Glasgow recalls asking himself. That concept became quickly outdated as most building managers didn't want to be responsible for yet another tenant service.

The Glasgow Group shifted focus and in a small firm specializing in technology, it's of the utmost importance to keep ahead of the trends. The microenterprise since has developed practices in cabling, networking and voice services over an internal computer network, aided by a stable of contractors. The firm, with only two full-time employees, can usually devote a team of six to a project.

Andrew, the company's vice president, has been with the firm about 10 years. His brother, Justin, worked with the firm for four years but left to the potentially more lucrative field of investment banking. Richard notes that working with his sons has been easier than with his original partners who no longer work with the firm because "there's less ego involved."

Cultivating New Business

A typical new client for the firm today is a business that's relocating. That business often uses the opportunity to upgrade its phone system which can be "traumatic" for it, said Richard Glasgow, who works out of his Great Falls, Va., home. His firm has worked on relocation issues with at least 30 law firms and a comparable number of associations so he has become very familiar with their types of needs. He can often anticipate problems that could arise before his clients do.

"Law firms put a tremendous amount of emphasis on communications and supporting attorneys, so downtime and coverage and things working is extremely important to them," said Glasgow. "They're not unafraid to spend money on that."

"They come to us for our special expertise" in moving firms or buying a new phone system, said Glasgow, who has a background in telecommunications and engineering. "It's the design side and the selection side of knowing the product that will fit them."

Glasgow notes that D.C. "is a small community so a lot of these people talk to each other and share our name." For example, his firm receives many referrals through architecture firms.

He acknowledges that it's a competitive market. "Whenever I put a proposal together, there seems to always be other firms competing. They don't tend to be local and sometimes that helps" us gain business. "I've known for years the other local firms that do what I do, but I don't tend to lose contracts to them because they have their own little niche too."

Summary: The Glasgow Group builds its business primarily throughout the Washington metro area by specializing in custom jobs. The father-and-son telecommunications team has carved out a niche with law firms and associations that are relocating, but can offer specialized work for other entities, such as a local theater. The Great Falls, Va.-based firm has had to keep pace with developing technology, which has had its challenges, but has become profitable with the booming growth of Northern Virginia.

By Sharon McLoone |  October 10, 2007; 10:41 AM ET Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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